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The Princess (part 7)

Written by: Alfred Lord Tennyson | Biography
 | Quotes (78) |
 So was their sanctuary violated, 
So their fair college turned to hospital; 
At first with all confusion: by and by 
Sweet order lived again with other laws: 
A kindlier influence reigned; and everywhere 
Low voices with the ministering hand 
Hung round the sick: the maidens came, they talked, 
They sang, they read: till she not fair began 
To gather light, and she that was, became 
Her former beauty treble; and to and fro 
With books, with flowers, with Angel offices, 
Like creatures native unto gracious act, 
And in their own clear element, they moved. 

But sadness on the soul of Ida fell, 
And hatred of her weakness, blent with shame. 
Old studies failed; seldom she spoke: but oft 
Clomb to the roofs, and gazed alone for hours 
On that disastrous leaguer, swarms of men 
Darkening her female field: void was her use, 
And she as one that climbs a peak to gaze 
O'er land and main, and sees a great black cloud 
Drag inward from the deeps, a wall of night, 
Blot out the slope of sea from verge to shore, 
And suck the blinding splendour from the sand, 
And quenching lake by lake and tarn by tarn 
Expunge the world: so fared she gazing there; 
So blackened all her world in secret, blank 
And waste it seemed and vain; till down she came, 
And found fair peace once more among the sick. 

And twilight dawned; and morn by morn the lark 
Shot up and shrilled in flickering gyres, but I 
Lay silent in the muffled cage of life: 
And twilight gloomed; and broader-grown the bowers 
Drew the great night into themselves, and Heaven, 
Star after Star, arose and fell; but I, 
Deeper than those weird doubts could reach me, lay 
Quite sundered from the moving Universe, 
Nor knew what eye was on me, nor the hand 
That nursed me, more than infants in their sleep. 

But Psyche tended Florian: with her oft, 
Melissa came; for Blanche had gone, but left 
Her child among us, willing she should keep 
Court-favour: here and there the small bright head, 
A light of healing, glanced about the couch, 
Or through the parted silks the tender face 
Peeped, shining in upon the wounded man 
With blush and smile, a medicine in themselves 
To wile the length from languorous hours, and draw 
The sting from pain; nor seemed it strange that soon 
He rose up whole, and those fair charities 
Joined at her side; nor stranger seemed that hears 
So gentle, so employed, should close in love, 
Than when two dewdrops on the petals shake 
To the same sweet air, and tremble deeper down, 
And slip at once all-fragrant into one. 

Less prosperously the second suit obtained 
At first with Psyche. Not though Blanche had sworn 
That after that dark night among the fields 
She needs must wed him for her own good name; 
Not though he built upon the babe restored; 
Nor though she liked him, yielded she, but feared 
To incense the Head once more; till on a day 
When Cyril pleaded, Ida came behind 
Seen but of Psyche: on her foot she hung 
A moment, and she heard, at which her face 
A little flushed, and she past on; but each 
Assumed from thence a half-consent involved 
In stillness, plighted troth, and were at peace. 

Nor only these: Love in the sacred halls 
Held carnival at will, and flying struck 
With showers of random sweet on maid and man. 
Nor did her father cease to press my claim, 
Nor did mine own, now reconciled; nor yet 
Did those twin-brothers, risen again and whole; 
Nor Arac, satiate with his victory. 

But I lay still, and with me oft she sat: 
Then came a change; for sometimes I would catch 
Her hand in wild delirium, gripe it hard, 
And fling it like a viper off, and shriek 
'You are not Ida;' clasp it once again, 
And call her Ida, though I knew her not, 
And call her sweet, as if in irony, 
And call her hard and cold which seemed a truth: 
And still she feared that I should lose my mind, 
And often she believed that I should die: 
Till out of long frustration of her care, 
And pensive tendance in the all-weary noons, 
And watches in the dead, the dark, when clocks 
Throbbed thunder through the palace floors, or called 
On flying Time from all their silver tongues-- 
And out of memories of her kindlier days, 
And sidelong glances at my father's grief, 
And at the happy lovers heart in heart-- 
And out of hauntings of my spoken love, 
And lonely listenings to my muttered dream, 
And often feeling of the helpless hands, 
And wordless broodings on the wasted cheek-- 
From all a closer interest flourished up, 
Tenderness touch by touch, and last, to these, 
Love, like an Alpine harebell hung with tears 
By some cold morning glacier; frail at first 
And feeble, all unconscious of itself, 
But such as gathered colour day by day. 

Last I woke sane, but well-nigh close to death 
For weakness: it was evening: silent light 
Slept on the painted walls, wherein were wrought 
Two grand designs; for on one side arose 
The women up in wild revolt, and stormed 
At the Oppian Law. Titanic shapes, they crammed 
The forum, and half-crushed among the rest 
A dwarf-like Cato cowered. On the other side 
Hortensia spoke against the tax; behind, 
A train of dames: by axe and eagle sat, 
With all their foreheads drawn in Roman scowls, 
And half the wolf's-milk curdled in their veins, 
The fierce triumvirs; and before them paused 
Hortensia pleading: angry was her face. 

I saw the forms: I knew not where I was: 
They did but look like hollow shows; nor more 
Sweet Ida: palm to palm she sat: the dew 
Dwelt in her eyes, and softer all her shape 
And rounder seemed: I moved: I sighed: a touch 
Came round my wrist, and tears upon my hand: 
Then all for languor and self-pity ran 
Mine down my face, and with what life I had, 
And like a flower that cannot all unfold, 
So drenched it is with tempest, to the sun, 
Yet, as it may, turns toward him, I on her 
Fixt my faint eyes, and uttered whisperingly: 

'If you be, what I think you, some sweet dream, 
I would but ask you to fulfil yourself: 
But if you be that Ida whom I knew, 
I ask you nothing: only, if a dream, 
Sweet dream, be perfect. I shall die tonight. 
Stoop down and seem to kiss me ere I die.' 

I could no more, but lay like one in trance, 
That hears his burial talked of by his friends, 
And cannot speak, nor move, nor make one sign, 
But lies and dreads his doom. She turned; she paused; 
She stooped; and out of languor leapt a cry; 
Leapt fiery Passion from the brinks of death; 
And I believed that in the living world 
My spirit closed with Ida's at the lips; 
Till back I fell, and from mine arms she rose 
Glowing all over noble shame; and all 
Her falser self slipt from her like a robe, 
And left her woman, lovelier in her mood 
Than in her mould that other, when she came 
From barren deeps to conquer all with love; 
And down the streaming crystal dropt; and she 
Far-fleeted by the purple island-sides, 
Naked, a double light in air and wave, 
To meet her Graces, where they decked her out 
For worship without end; nor end of mine, 
Stateliest, for thee! but mute she glided forth, 
Nor glanced behind her, and I sank and slept, 
Filled through and through with Love, a happy sleep. 

Deep in the night I woke: she, near me, held 
A volume of the Poets of her land: 
There to herself, all in low tones, she read. 

'Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white; 
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; 
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font: 
The fire-fly wakens: wake thou with me. 

Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost, 
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me. 

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars, 
And all thy heart lies open unto me. 

Now lies the silent meteor on, and leaves 
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me. 

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up, 
And slips into the bosom of the lake: 
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip 
Into my bosom and be lost in me.' 

I heard her turn the page; she found a small 
Sweet Idyl, and once more, as low, she read: 

'Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height: 
What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang) 
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills? 
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease 
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine, 
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire; 
And come, for love is of the valley, come, 
For love is of the valley, come thou down 
And find him; by the happy threshold, he, 
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize, 
Or red with spirted purple of the vats, 
Or foxlike in the vine; nor cares to walk 
With Death and Morning on the silver horns, 
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine, 
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice, 
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls 
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors: 
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down 
To find him in the valley; let the wild 
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave 
The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill 
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke, 
That like a broken purpose waste in air: 
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales 
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth 
Arise to thee; the children call, and I 
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound, 
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet; 
Myriads of rivulets hurrying through the lawn, 
The moan of doves in immemorial elms, 
And murmuring of innumerable bees.' 

So she low-toned; while with shut eyes I lay 
Listening; then looked. Pale was the perfect face; 
The bosom with long sighs laboured; and meek 
Seemed the full lips, and mild the luminous eyes, 
And the voice trembled and the hand. She said 
Brokenly, that she knew it, she had failed 
In sweet humility; had failed in all; 
That all her labour was but as a block 
Left in the quarry; but she still were loth, 
She still were loth to yield herself to one 
That wholly scorned to help their equal rights 
Against the sons of men, and barbarous laws. 
She prayed me not to judge their cause from her 
That wronged it, sought far less for truth than power 
In knowledge: something wild within her breast, 
A greater than all knowledge, beat her down. 
And she had nursed me there from week to week: 
Much had she learnt in little time. In part 
It was ill counsel had misled the girl 
To vex true hearts: yet was she but a girl-- 
'Ah fool, and made myself a Queen of farce! 
When comes another such? never, I think, 
Till the Sun drop, dead, from the signs.' 
Her voice 
choked, and her forehead sank upon her hands, 
And her great heart through all the faultful Past 
Went sorrowing in a pause I dared not break; 
Till notice of a change in the dark world 
Was lispt about the acacias, and a bird, 
That early woke to feed her little ones, 
Sent from a dewy breast a cry for light: 
She moved, and at her feet the volume fell. 

'Blame not thyself too much,' I said, 'nor blame 
Too much the sons of men and barbarous laws; 
These were the rough ways of the world till now. 
Henceforth thou hast a helper, me, that know 
The woman's cause is man's: they rise or sink 
Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free: 
For she that out of Lethe scales with man 
The shining steps of Nature, shares with man 
His nights, his days, moves with him to one goal, 
Stays all the fair young planet in her hands-- 
If she be small, slight-natured, miserable, 
How shall men grow? but work no more alone! 
Our place is much: as far as in us lies 
We two will serve them both in aiding her-- 
Will clear away the parasitic forms 
That seem to keep her up but drag her down-- 
Will leave her space to burgeon out of all 
Within her--let her make herself her own 
To give or keep, to live and learn and be 
All that not harms distinctive womanhood. 
For woman is not undevelopt man, 
But diverse: could we make her as the man, 
Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this, 
Not like to like, but like in difference. 
Yet in the long years liker must they grow; 
The man be more of woman, she of man; 
He gain in sweetness and in moral height, 
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world; 
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care, 
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind; 
Till at the last she set herself to man, 
Like perfect music unto noble words; 
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time, 
Sit side by side, full-summed in all their powers, 
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be, 
Self-reverent each and reverencing each, 
Distinct in individualities, 
But like each other even as those who love. 
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men: 
Then reign the world's great bridals, chaste and calm: 
Then springs the crowning race of humankind. 
May these things be!' 
Sighing she spoke 'I fear 
They will not.' 
'Dear, but let us type them now 
In our own lives, and this proud watchword rest 
Of equal; seeing either sex alone 
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies 
Nor equal, nor unequal: each fulfils 
Defect in each, and always thought in thought, 
Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow, 
The single pure and perfect animal, 
The two-celled heart beating, with one full stroke, 
And again sighing she spoke: 'A dream 
That once was mind! what woman taught you this?' 

'Alone,' I said, 'from earlier than I know, 
Immersed in rich foreshadowings of the world, 
I loved the woman: he, that doth not, lives 
A drowning life, besotted in sweet self, 
Or pines in sad experience worse than death, 
Or keeps his winged affections clipt with crime: 
Yet was there one through whom I loved her, one 
Not learnèd, save in gracious household ways, 
Not perfect, nay, but full of tender wants, 
No Angel, but a dearer being, all dipt 
In Angel instincts, breathing Paradise, 
Interpreter between the Gods and men, 
Who looked all native to her place, and yet 
On tiptoe seemed to touch upon a sphere 
Too gross to tread, and all male minds perforce 
Swayed to her from their orbits as they moved, 
And girdled her with music. Happy he 
With such a mother! faith in womankind 
Beats with his blood, and trust in all things high 
Comes easy to him, and though he trip and fall 
He shall not blind his soul with clay.' 
'But I,' 
Said Ida, tremulously, 'so all unlike-- 
It seems you love to cheat yourself with words: 
This mother is your model. I have heard 
of your strange doubts: they well might be: I seem 
A mockery to my own self. Never, Prince; 
You cannot love me.' 
'Nay but thee' I said 
'From yearlong poring on thy pictured eyes, 
Ere seen I loved, and loved thee seen, and saw 
Thee woman through the crust of iron moods 
That masked thee from men's reverence up, and forced 
Sweet love on pranks of saucy boyhood: now, 
Given back to life, to life indeed, through thee, 
Indeed I love: the new day comes, the light 
Dearer for night, as dearer thou for faults 
Lived over: lift thine eyes; my doubts are dead, 
My haunting sense of hollow shows: the change, 
This truthful change in thee has killed it. Dear, 
Look up, and let thy nature strike on mine, 
Like yonder morning on the blind half-world; 
Approach and fear not; breathe upon my brows; 
In that fine air I tremble, all the past 
Melts mist-like into this bright hour, and this 
Is morn to more, and all the rich to-come 
Reels, as the golden Autumn woodland reels 
Athwart the smoke of burning weeds. Forgive me, 
I waste my heart in signs: let be. My bride, 
My wife, my life. O we will walk this world, 
Yoked in all exercise of noble end, 
And so through those dark gates across the wild 
That no man knows. Indeed I love thee: come, 
Yield thyself up: my hopes and thine are one: 
Accomplish thou my manhood and thyself; 
Lay thy sweet hands in mine and trust to me.'